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What's the difference between coloured amplification and EQ?

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 

Still trying to learn the basics of the science behind this all, so forgive me if I make some major mistake.

 

So, if amplification is supposed to magnify the character of the headphones and the recording...

And all amps differ in this only in terms of how they themselves divert from flat-FR neutrality...

Then in terms of the end user's experience, what is the difference between buying an expensive amp that counters some unwanted property of your headphones and just using EQ to alter the headphones' output yourself, using a cheaper, neutral amp?

 

I've read that EQ'ing introduces distortion - particularly if you EQ up instead of down - but is there evidence that listeners can detect this distortion and is this a different phenomenon to what they are experiencing with a coloured amp (i.e. is the point of a coloured amp to EQ without distortion)?

post #2 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by audioops View Post
 

Still trying to learn the basics of the science behind this all, so forgive me if I make some major mistake.

 

So, if amplification is supposed to magnify the character of the headphones and the recording...

And all amps differ in this only in terms of how they themselves divert from flat-FR neutrality...

Then in terms of the end user's experience, what is the difference between buying an expensive amp that counters some unwanted property of your headphones and just using EQ to alter the headphones' output yourself, using a cheaper, neutral amp?

 

I've read that EQ'ing introduces distortion - particularly if you EQ up instead of down - but is there evidence that listeners can detect this distortion and is this a different phenomenon to what they are experiencing with a coloured amp (i.e. is the point of a coloured amp to EQ without distortion)?

 

 

The bolded sentence is news to me.  I always thought that an amps purpose was to simply provide gain to the signal sufficiently to drive whatever transducer you're using.  Hence the term "wire with gain".  

 

Some folks look for a synergy of sound, as well as electrical/mechanical synergy, between an amp and speaker or headphone.  That's a fine and worthy goal but I'll let some of the forum sound scientists comment on the destructive properties of graphic equalizers.

 

I'll offer a couple of my opinions and a little speculation. <puts on flame retardant suite>

 

I will speculate that the belief that EQ's harm the signal or introduce unwanted distortion probably comes from the days when EQ's were analog devices that used complex filters made of electrical circuit components.  Certainly  with any analog audio component some are better than others.  But today equalization can be done in the digital domain before conversion to analog and thereby escape the worst side effects of analog EQs.  But a quick google search shows that there are pitfalls of digital equalization as well. Again, I'm no expert so hopefully we'll get other responses with some hard facts on this.

 

It's my opinion that graphic EQs have a worse reputation than they deserve and that many audiosnobs consider them tools for toothless, inbred, hillbilly trailer-trash.  I use a gentle, more or less "V' on my computer audio using Foobar 2000 to give my music a little more "dynamic" (probably not the best term) signature.  

      I see so many posts from people asking "what amp should I buy to make my headphones sound more/less <something>".  I think EQing with amps is generally a bad idea because there really isn't that much difference in the sound of a warm amp and a neutral amp, and if there is something you don't like in your headphones you should look there to make a change since your headphones have a MUCH larger impact on the overall sound than anything else in the chain.  Synergy and complimentary sound signatures aside, it's just way easier to dial back the treble on an overly bright headphone with a digital EQ in software.  But you have to get over the silly notions that "the audiophiles would frown on me for that".  I make my decisions on what I buy and how I use my gear based on one thing: How it sounds to me. You should too. (EDIT: To yourself I mean)


Edited by cswann1 - 2/2/14 at 4:08am
post #3 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by audioops View Post
 

Then in terms of the end user's experience, what is the difference between buying an expensive amp that counters some unwanted property of your headphones and just using EQ to alter the headphones' output yourself, using a cheaper, neutral amp?

 

$$$

 

Also EQ will sound better than the coloured amp, because equalizing by buying different amps is like trying to hammer a nail with a spoon.

post #4 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by audioops View Post
I've read that EQ'ing introduces distortion - particularly if you EQ up instead of down - but is there evidence that listeners can detect this distortion and is this a different phenomenon to what they are experiencing with a coloured amp (i.e. is the point of a coloured amp to EQ without distortion)?

 

Amps do not have a magical ability to "equalize" the sound without adding more distortion than a correctly used digital EQ (more precisely, the DSP itself has theoretically no distortion other than - practically insignificant - rounding errors, but the drivers may distort more for example as a result of a bass boost). In fact, if the amp is colored due to having a high output impedance, it may increase the distortion more than an equivalent digital EQ that reproduces the same frequency response. Of course, when "amp coloration" is actually just expectation bias or inaccurate level matching, its "effects" are entirely beneficial, unlike those of incompetent attempts at equalization. :normal_smile : 


Edited by stv014 - 2/2/14 at 4:12am
post #5 of 13
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by audioops View Post
So, if amplification is supposed to magnify the character of the headphones and the recording...

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by cswann1 View Post
The bolded sentence is news to me.  I always thought that an amps purpose was to simply provide gain to the signal sufficiently to drive whatever transducer you're using.  Hence the term "wire with gain". 

 

That was my awkward way of trying to say amplification should be neutral. I tried looking up gain on wikipedia but I don't really get what it means to say that it increases voltage. Intuitively I feel like this might correspond to saying ideally amplification increases volume and does nothing else, but I've also seen on HF that 'there's more to an amp than volume'. I'm trying to work out if that last assertion is bull.

 

It's good to see your response - you were very helpful in another thread I posted and I appreciated it a lot.

post #6 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by audioops View Post

That was my awkward way of trying to say amplification should be neutral.

 

Ah...gotcha.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by audioops View Post

you were very helpful in another thread I posted and I appreciated it a lot.

 

 

No problem..happy to help 8^)

post #7 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by audioops View Post
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by audioops View Post
So, if amplification is supposed to magnify the character of the headphones and the recording...

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by cswann1 View Post
The bolded sentence is news to me.  I always thought that an amps purpose was to simply provide gain to the signal sufficiently to drive whatever transducer you're using.  Hence the term "wire with gain". 

 

That was my awkward way of trying to say amplification should be neutral. I tried looking up gain on wikipedia but I don't really get what it means to say that it increases voltage. Intuitively I feel like this might correspond to saying ideally amplification increases volume and does nothing else, but I've also seen on HF that 'there's more to an amp than volume'. I'm trying to work out if that last assertion is bull.

 

It's good to see your response - you were very helpful in another thread I posted and I appreciated it a lot.

voltage in this case is sound volume and nothing else. the purpose of the amp is to be able to deliver the asked voltage without stalling. 

there is more to it than voltage because for exemple U=RI so obviously the amp has to somehow control and deliver what's asked for all 3 values. and then there is crosstalk and noise and ....  but those are problems common to all sources.

 

the only real reason to get a specific colored amp is because you love how it sounds. else a neutral amp is ofc the way to go.

if we look at it in a filter adding way, the sound was altered at the recording, while mixing it, with the dac, then with the amp and last but surely not least, with the phones or speakers. from this point of view adding EQ is adding one more filter to the sound and that doesn't look good (the lower the resolution of the track, the faster any change will destructively alter the track. same as photoshop on pictures).

this is I guess why so many people believe that EQ is bad and refuse to even learn how to use it.

but they usually don't know in what proportion this EQing thing will add distortion, it's more of a hifi bourgeois behavior than anything. I have loads of friends on different forums that would never use EQ for that "it destroys the sound" rule, but will tube roll all year long without a care in the world for adding a hundred or a thousand times more distortion than with an ok EQ.

 

there is common sense and there is looking at the values.

I'm very much pro EQ, as long as you learn a little how best to use it. your sound system will always end up sounding better(at least for you). also I find it a lot more convenient and money friendly than going fishing for the "perfect combo" for years.

post #8 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by castleofargh View Post
 

 

I'm very much pro EQ, as long as you learn a little how best to use it. your sound system will always end up sounding better(at least for you). also I find it a lot more convenient and money friendly than going fishing for the "perfect combo" for years.

 

 

I like the way you talk

 

post #9 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by audioops View Post

I've read that EQ'ing introduces distortion - particularly if you EQ up instead of down - but is there evidence that listeners can detect this distortion and is this a different phenomenon to what they are experiencing with a coloured amp (i.e. is the point of a coloured amp to EQ without distortion)?
If you have a signal close to maximum volume and your EQ tries to increase it even more, it 'clips' at the maximum volume introducing harmonic distortion. This is clearly audible, but easily fixed by setting the preamp level so everything is below 0 dB.

I.e. If your values can go from 0-10 and you try to double them, you would turn 2,3,4,3,6,5,7,5,2 into 4,6,8,6,10,10,10,10, 4

Experiments have been done passing sound through an EQ then back through the inverse lots of times and the degradation is minimal.

EQ can also introduce phase shifts, but these aren't very audible and your headphones are going to have phase errors anyway.
Edited by higbvuyb - 2/2/14 at 6:56am
post #10 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by higbvuyb View Post

EQ can also introduce phase shifts, but these aren't very audible and your headphones are going to have phase errors anyway.

 

If the EQ "flattens" the overall frequency response, it may even partly cancel the phase shift of the headphones, resulting in overall less phase shift. This should be the case if the headphones have a close to minimum phase response in the range affected by the equalization, and the EQ is minimum phase as well (which an IIR parametric EQ likely is).


Edited by stv014 - 2/2/14 at 11:33am
post #11 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by castleofargh View Post

 

there is common sense and there is looking at the values.

I'm very much pro EQ, as long as you learn a little how best to use it. your sound system will always end up sounding better(at least for you). also I find it a lot more convenient and money friendly than going fishing for the "perfect combo" for years.


+1. This is how it used to be for me too with about 9 or so headphones I used, always equalized them all by ear to what sounded "best to me". I'm for balanced midrange and highs but I do want a boosted "hill-shape" bass curve peaking there around 80Hz. All headphones I owned always got a very scissor-tailed EQ setting that had very different shape for every headphone, obviously I had the same goal of balance with every headphone (my personal "ideal" sound curve). 

Then I got M-Audio Q40 and paired with digiZoid ZO2.1 amp, holy smokes, I don't even need to EQ this setup as it's so close to my ideal balance that the EQ will be more of a harm than helpful for leaving EQ completely out of the mix. I'm very picky about the balance so I'm surprised I'm even using a non-EQ'd setup. That's also why I'm so reluctant to upgrade and why I'm still happily using Q40 after 2+ years (which is like a decade in head-fi land) as the fact that I don't have to EQ it at all and the fact I had to EQ my previous 9 or so headphones to get satisfied is telling something; I have found a setup which comes very close to my personal ideal curve. :)


Edited by RPGWiZaRD - 2/2/14 at 11:56am
post #12 of 13
Quote:

Originally Posted by audioops View Post

 

And all amps differ in this only in terms of how they themselves divert from flat-FR neutrality...

 

*coughs* Time to read about distortion spectrum and distortion masking....

 

It doesn't apply if you only use very low distortion amps but "coloured" amps often aren't.

post #13 of 13

Frequency response balancing should be done at the last step before the preamp and ideally, everything up to that point should be completely neutral. That way you don't end up bouncing the response back and forth randomly, or have some downstream coloration messing up your response curve.

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